On-Base Perception

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Yankees have organizational issue at first base

Carlos Beltran plays first base in the fifth

Carlos Beltran plays first base in the fifth inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, April 13, 2014. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Just 16 games into the season, the Yankees have already had five players man first base – one of whom had fewer than five games of experience at the position and three players who had previously only set foot on a first base bag when rounding the bases.

The chronology goes like this:

- Mark Teixeira strained his hamstring on April 4, just four games into his season, and went on the disabled list.

- Kelly Johnson largely took over the position, moving from third base to first. His only previous experience was playing three games at first base (two starts) during the 2013 season.

- When facing a lefthanded pitcher, catcher Francisco Cervelli, a superior hitter versus southpaws, stood in at first, where he had never previously played. That experiment lasted until he, too, pulled his hamstring during a game on April 13. He’s currently on the 60-day disabled list.

- Carlos Beltran, an outfielder who’s never played anywhere else during his career, took over first base when Cervelli went down. Beltran’s enduring quote about the experience was: “I was like, ‘Oh, God, I hope they don’t hit the ball to me.’” They didn’t.

- Scott Sizemore, another southpaw specialist, started at first base when the Yankees faced Tampa Bay lefty David Price on Thursday. In 159 previous major league games, he had only ever played second and third base. For that matter, in 449 minor league games, he had only played second, third and short.

While the process has been shaky, however, the results have not been too bad.

Yankees first baseman have hit .241 with a .290 on-base percentage and .431 slugging percentage for a .721 on-base plus slugging percentage. That’s better than the American League average .709 OPS at first base.

But the somewhat chaotic situation raises the question: how did the Yankees get here?

The organization as a whole simply does not have a lot of quality, natural, healthy first basemen.

At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees have gone with a platoon of Corban Joseph and Russ Canzler. Joseph has played in 538 minor league games, 483 at second base, 43 at third and 12 at short (including nine this season). Canzler is seeing at-bats vs. lefties, but has at least played 496 of his 842 minor league games at first. He’s also 28 and has 29 career major league games on his resume with the Rays and Indians. He's a role player at best.

At Double-A Trenton, the organization has largely played Zach Wilson and Kyle Roller with occasional appearances from catcher Francisco Arcia and third baseman Dan Fiorito. Wilson has 135 minor league games and has started 116 at third. He had played two games at first base prior to this season.

Roller, finally, is a first baseman by trade. In five minor league seasons, he’s hit .269 with a .360 OBP and .456 slugging percentage. He’s in his second season at Double-A. But, at 26, Roller is no prospect and is fairly old to be in Double-A. He’s not even listed in the Minor League Baseball Analyst or Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook.

Greg Bird, a 21-year-old natural first baseman who lit up Single-A last season (.428 OBP, 20 HR), is currently on the disabled list, otherwise he’d likely be at Double-A.

But given that major league incumbent Teixeira has missed significant time each of the last two seasons with ailments, how have Yankees decision makers left the first base position so thin at the upper levels of the organization?

Tags: first base , yankees , carlos beltran , mark teixeira , francisco cervelli , kelly johnson , scott sizemore

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